Taking a Closer Look at the Cycle of Violence Theory

The cycle of violence theory suggests that patterns of violence experienced in childhood will repeat in adulthood. For instance, victims of violence and maltreatment will continue that pattern themselves by perpetrating violence and maltreatment when they become adults. There has been a broad spectrum of research examining various nuances of the cycle of violence, yet more needs to be done to fully understand how particular abuses affect adult behavior and eventual perpetration.

To understand this better, Amy Reckdenwald, PhD, of the Department of Sociology at the University of Central Florida, recently concluded a study on a sample of male offender inmates. Her goal was to examine how different types of childhood abuse victimization predicted future perpetration.

Reckdenwald found that there was significant evidence to further support the cycle of violence theory. When she looked at independent types of abuse, Reckdenwald found that perpetrators of violence had high rates of childhood violent victimization. Likewise, inmates who experienced childhood sexual abuse were the most likely to be incarcerated for sexual abuse in adulthood. She also discovered that even being exposed to abuse increased the likelihood of perpetration of violent abuse.

The main findings from this study were that frequency of adult offending was impacted by childhood emotional abuse; history of physical abuse was directly related to frequency of violent and physical offenses in adulthood; and there was direct predictive value of sexual abuse victimization in childhood on sexual violence perpetration in adulthood. One point that must be underscored is the impact of psychological abuse. Identifying specific patterns and methods of emotional abuse is difficult, making it challenging to identify a direct predictive value.

However, Reckdenwald points out that the link is there and research has shown that despite its subtle appearance, the negative impact emotional abuse has on an individual could be more destructive than many other forms of abuse. Another unexpected finding was that survivors of incestual abuse did not have higher levels of sexual offending than survivors of nonincestual sexual abuse.

Reckdenwald believes that the extensive data provided from her study adds a great deal to the understanding of the cycle of violence and patterns of offending. But more needs to be done. She added, “Future research should consider a more systematic examination of what causes some individuals to carry trauma throughout their life and inflict similar harm on to others.”

Reckdenwald, Amy, Christina Mancini, and Eric Beauregard. (2013). The cycle of violence: Examining the impact of maltreatment early in life on adult offending. Violence and Victims 28.3 (2013): 466-82. ProQuest. Web.

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  • Belle


    July 10th, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    Once you stop the cycle then the abuse can end but not until that time, and that circle has to be broken.

  • Sam


    July 11th, 2013 at 4:14 AM

    Being a victim of abuse, well, there is just not enough to say how much damage this does to you.
    Unfortunately this is not something that is limited to only you. More than likely this is a pattern that continues to harm others in your life as well.
    I wish that there was more that could be done to end this, but unfortunately this is so pervasive in many families that it feels as if the fight is always an uphill battle.

  • Trish


    July 11th, 2013 at 4:37 PM

    My first 16 years of life were filled with physical, sexual and mental abuse. At 57 I still struggle with PTSD. The day my son was born I informed the family it stopped with this child, no more. We have to learn what it right and how to practice it. I made lots of mistakes parenting, but I did not abuse my child. He has become a terrific husband and father. I know it sounds simple, but I just knew it couldn’t go on. It is an uphill battle, but we have to fight, we have to watch for it. If you see the effects abuse has on people maybe you can let them know someone cares and understands. I see so many behaviors in people and I know why they are acting that way. It helps me be more understanding.

  • Colby


    July 13th, 2013 at 11:55 PM

    Abuse can be damaging.Not just to the victim but to many others as well.Indirect effects are more than direct and that is why it is so important to provide fro adequate coping measures and help and support for victims of abuse.If that does not happen it could add another link to this vicious chain,and another,and another.

    We need to stand up to stop this,to change this.Only then can we expect lower or even nil abuse out there.Until then this will only multiply like a virus does!

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